Wednesday, June 12, 2013

South Korean Super-Train

We always have mixed feelings when admired Asian filmmakers first get work in Hollywood. For some of them, such as John Woo, who loves American Westerns and musicals, the journey was a lifelong dream come true, and we were happy for him. Yet Woo didn't again make a film as good as his landmark Hong Kong gangster films of the 1980s until 2008, he returned home to make the great "Red Cliff."

Giving up the home-culture advantage, in other words, can be a risky proposition.

I hate to say I have a bad feeling for other reasons, too, about the just-released first trailer for "Snowpiercer," a film credited to a trio of Korean production companies (giant CJ Entertainment along with Opus and Moho) that marks the English-language debut of lively director Bong Joon-ho ("The Host"). The amazingly deep cast includes Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Allison Pill and Ed Harris, with two top Korean performers, Song Kang-ho ("Thirst") and Ko Ah-sung, who in "The Host" played a father and daughter menaced by a giant ambulatory fish.

"Variety" noted that two other major Korean directors crossed the Pacific this year, "Oldboy" evil genius Park Chan-wook (“Stoker”) and almost as evil "I Saw the Devil" semi-genius Kim Jee-woon (“The Last Stand”). Not surprising, since South Korean film and TV productions continue to be among the most popular in Asia.

All production values in the trailer look pro, as the trades used to say, but the premise is alarmingly silly: After a new ice age brought on by global warming, all the people left in the world are passengers on a giant train that circles the globe continuously, powered by a perpetual motion engine. Our hero, Evans, leads a rebellion of the underclass, relegated to the dark and dingy cars at the ass end of the train, against their cruel overlords, led by Swinton in coke bottle glasses, who get to ride up front.

"Snowpiercer" turns out to be a literal translation of the title of the source material, the French bande dessinee graphic novel "Le Transperceneige." It's said to be opening in South Korea and Europe beginning in August. American distributer The Weinstein Company acquired the film over a year ago but hasn't set a US release date, perhaps not a smart move, if true, with a film that's all-but guaranteed to be heavily pirated.

And for those of you who don't realize that the title of this post is a reference, this is what it's a reference to:

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